“Why are you doing it if you don’t want to?”

It was a simple question. I just wasn’t expecting it. I sat there for a few seconds waiting for my answer to jump out of my mouth but instead, heard myself say, “I don’t know.”

After more reflection I realized I was making myself do things, like finishing a book I no longer cared about.    

I’m not abdicating being a quitter, let me make that clear. What I’m talking about is when we do things for the wrong reasons.

Obligation

Have you ever found yourself doing something because you feel obligated? We’re afraid if we don’t do it, we’ll feel guilty. It’s funny because some people don’t struggle with this at all. They have freedom. They listen to their inner self and graciously say “no” when needed. They don’t even feel obligated to give a reason.

Saying “no.”

In their book, Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud, they talk about being able to say “no.” They say if you love someone you can receive a “no.” 

Before reading that book I foolishly thought if someone loved me they would want to please me, period. I came to realize some of my requests were really demands. How do I know? Well, when something is a request the person has a choice to either grant your request or to deny it. If it’s a demand, when the answer is “no,” someone pays. They pay dearly. Displeasure has a way of seeping out.

Appearances

How many times have you done something because you were afraid of how it might look if you didn’t? This is especially hard when the thing you are being asked to do is a helpful thing. Aren’t we supposed to help people? The answer is yes. But the real question is, do you think it’s your job to help everyone? And if no one steps up, is it your responsibility?

Even Jesus didn’t do everything people asked of him. Why did I think I needed to? 

I wonder how many things I’ve done for the sake of appearances? I’d rather not count if you don’t mind.

So what do we do?

When being asked to do something you can:

  • take your time
  • listen to your gut
  • be authentic

Unless it’s a life or death issue, you can take time, letting the idea simmer. You have that choice. I was always amazed when I’d hear others say, “I’ll get back to you.” I always thought I should have an answer right then. A Pastor I knew used to tell his children, “If you want an immediate answer, the answer will be no.”

Listening to your gut may take some practice. Try imagining yourself doing the thing you were asked to do. How do you feel? Now imagine yourself NOT doing it. Are you relieved, or do you feel like you would miss out by not doing it? Too often we look to others for their opinions instead of going with our gut feelings.

Be yourself. Don’t do things you’d rather not do. Otherwise the seed of resentment will start to grow. If you choose to do things you want to do, you won’t have to paste on a smile. 

I’m still learning. I’m taking inventory of the things I do. And when I subtract the things I am making myself do, I find I have more energy. 

How about you? What are you doing, and why? 

strings attached

I like gifts. A gift can make you feel cared for, special. Some gifts are totally a surprise.

“You shouldn’t have,” but secretly you’re glad they did.

Then there are “gifts” which aren’t really gifts at all. They look like gifts, they were given to you in the same way. It’s just that later you noticed there were strings attached.

Oh, the strings weren’t very strong, at first. But, then you felt this tug, called obligation. Obligation causes us to do things because we feel we don’t have a choice. 

It’s like some invitations you receive,

“I really hope you can come.”

But the translation is, 

“You better be there.”

Invitations and demands are different. With invitations you are free to decline without hurting the relationship. With demands you have no choice. 

The problem is you don’t know it’s a demand until you decline. If you’re served a big helping of guilt pie with a cool glass of “after all I’ve done for you,” trust me, it was not an invitation.

In reading the book, Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud, they explain when you love someone, they are free to tell you “no.”

When I first read this, I struggled because I thought if a person loved me they would do what I want them to do. If something was important to me, then it would also be important to him/her. That is not true.

I’m smiling now as I type this, but honestly, I did think that way. 

I remember inviting someone to a family gathering. I thought for sure they would attend. First, they told me they would get back to me. That was scary. Then they  explained that they wanted to come, but would be unable.

I really tried processing that, but I kept coming up with the same thoughts. They said they wanted to come but it wouldn’t work out. I believed, If they had wanted to come they would come. It was their choice. I was sorely disappointed. Okay, I’ll change that. I was angry.

I realized that they were NOT free to say no. The truth is, I had not extended an invitation I had issued a demand. 

Fast forward about 5 years and I can say I think I’m getting better.  

Coming from a dysfunctional family, I realize I didn’t do well with disappointments. They were an area in my life I needed to work on, just like giving people the freedom to say no.  

I had it all wrong. I figured if I asked nicely, that constituted an invitation. I got good at hiding the strings.

The good news is, I’m learning. And when I see areas where I need help I expose them to God and he helps me. It’s not an overnight thing.

So, my question to you is this, are others in your life free to tell you ”no?”

I hope so. I’m not going to be able to make it next week. Sorry.